Toxic Work Friendships: How to Spot Them and End Them Without Hurting Your Job

Updated on April 6, 2018
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Sally believes relationships should be built on mutual respect. She gives talks and workshops on cultivating good career connections.

Having someone at work you call a good friend can help boost your on-the-job satisfaction. But if the friendship becomes strained, it's easy to feel alone. Learn how to recognize an unhealthy friendship at work and keep it from harming your career.

People who work outside of the home can spend anywhere from 5 to 50 hours a week alongside their co-workers. Unless you are totally isolated from other people, you’ll likely develop some office friendships. Your work friends may not be as close to you as your best friends in your after-hours life but getting along and being friendly with your peers on the job can make the workday more fun and enjoyable.

But what do you do if one of those work relationships starts to become troublesome? Perhaps you’ve noticed a change in the way you and your work friend connect. If you feel like something just doesn’t feel right, it could be that your work friendship has become toxic and unhealthy. If things have been feeling off lately, here are some signs that your working relationship is becoming toxic.

Signs of a Toxic Work Friendship

She gossips about other people and tries to pull you into her own conflicts with other co-workers.

Its one thing to ask a friend at work to listen to you when you’ve had a bad day or you feel that you’ve been mistreated by someone else. But when she turns a misunderstanding into a full-on beef with one of the other people you work with, tread carefully. When she expects you to take sides, she’s asking you to dismiss the professional working relationships you’ve built. She’s putting you in a position that could make it difficult to maintain professional boundaries and collegial relations with your peers. A healthy friendship at work doesn’t ask you to sacrifice your other work relationships.

Your work friend teases you in front of your boss.

Calling you names—even if they are pet names—reminding you out loud of your most embarrassing moments, or speaking to you sarcastically in front of your supervisor is rude and disrespectful. If she insists that she’s just telling inside jokes or try to be funny, even after you’ve asked her to stop, be mindful of what you share with her going forward. True friends don’t treat each other that way in the workplace or after hours, at home.

Your best workmate lacks humility.

She lets you take the blame when things go wrong but will always take the credit when things go well. She rarely apologizes for the mistakes she makes and lacks the self-awareness to see how her actions are impacting you and others. If you feel like your work friend is treating you unfairly, ask yourself what it is that is keeping you connected to her. One of the things about toxic relationships, at work or in our personal lives, is that they often involve a certain level of co-dependency.

Your work friend can't, or won't, celebrate your success with you.

When something good happens to you at work, sincere friends will be happy for you. Toxic friends will minimize your success, fail to congratulate you, or try to one-up your good news with an announcement of their own.

How to Deal with a Toxic Friend at Work Without Making Things Awkward

There are better ways to deal with a toxic friend at work instead of just ignoring the problem and hoping it will go away.
There are better ways to deal with a toxic friend at work instead of just ignoring the problem and hoping it will go away.

Unlike difficult friendships in your personal life that you can walk away from, bad relationships at work can be harder to detach yourself from. You are both there to earn a living and so it’s inevitable that you will still have to spend time together, even when you’d rather not.

Here are some things you can do to carefully end a toxic friendship at work without damaging the working relationship too.

  • Be mindful of how you are communicating.What message are you sending when you share personal details of your own life with her? What signal are you putting out there when you give away your precious time to let her complain about others? Toxic friendships don't happen on their own. It's worth doing a little bit of personal self-reflection too while you work on extracting yourself from the relationship.
  • Get comfortable asserting yourself. One of the reasons toxic friendships tend to thrive even when they cause pain and stress is that one or both parties in the relationship haven't been assertive in setting boundaries.
  • Find ways to re-direct conversations that make you uncomfortable.
  • Be empathetic and respectful. She has feelings too and perhaps she may not even know or realize that things have gone off the rails for the two of you. Due to personal life circumstances, a rough childhood or other adverse events, some people end up in an endless cycle of one toxic relationship after another without ever understanding why.
  • Keep busy. Consider initiating exciting solo project at work or joining a committee. Doing will give you a chance to regain your sense of independence and autonomy and create an opportunity for you to find pride and joy in doing meaningful work.
  • Don't go out of your way to avoid her. Ghosting someone or cutting them off completely at work is neither a practical nor professional way of dealing with a toxic friendship at work.
  • Find healthy ways to manage your stress at work. Instead of turning to your workmate when you want to vent, find other healthy ways to cope with stressful situations so that the temptation to gossip and carry on destructive conversations is nixed.
  • Give yourself time to grieve the loss of what was once a vibrant friendly work relationship.
  • Review your social media connections and if necessary, find ways to limit what you share with one another. You don't need to unfriend her on Facebook---that might be too jarring---but you change your privacy settings so that she can't see as much of your activity as she could before.

Do you believe people should have 'besties' at work?

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© 2018 Sally Hayes

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  • Ericdierker profile image

    Eric Dierker 2 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

    Interesting stuff. Good to pay attention to.

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